Prepare to Listen. Forgive, not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Prayerfully Read Matthew 18:21-35
21Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ 22Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. 23‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’
Peter’s view of forgiveness was too narrow. He wanted to limit it to seven times and then pay back. Jesus shattered his narrow-mindedness. Forgiveness, he said, is unlimited. To drive the point home he told a story, that, when taken seriously, is shocking for at least three reasons.
First, it means Jesus was serious when he taught us to pray: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Second, the slave’s debt was unrepayable, the equivalent of a billion-dollar debt for person earning $10 a day. It’s shocking to think that someone allowed a poorly paid slave to accumulate an outrageous debt. When repayment day came, the slave begged: “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Taylor comments, “It is an absurd promise. If he works forty hours a week for the next 150,000 years he will never be able to pay what he owes.” Third, forgiveness was free. The king, out of pity “released him and forgave him the debt,” asking nothing in return. The slave, couldn’t accept free grace and planned to keep his promise to repay to the last cent. Therefore, he demanded repayment from a fellow slave who owed him peanuts.
It’s shocking, but this is the way of God, who lets us accumulate a debt we could never repay and then freely and graciously forgives, no questions asked, no demands made. All we must do is give up notions of repaying, taking it out on fellow-sinners, and accept God’s grace with thanks. That way we’ll be able to forgive as we’ve been forgiven.
If this story was familiar to you, what did you see with a second gaze? What did you learn about God, and about yourself and about forgiveness?
Respond in Prayer
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Amen.
Live Obediently. Forgive as you have been forgiven—freely.
 Taylor, Barbara Brown. The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. 2004, p. 94.
 See explanation for ‘second gaze’ at: https://www.storymakerlife.com/a-second-gaze.html
Despite having frequently read and taught Matthew's Gospel, preparing these daily devotions, taking that second gaze, has surprised me with newness.